Death can be a positive thing or a negative thing. For a child of God there is a death that takes place at conversion. We die to our old life with its sin. We die to this world with all of its allurements. They no longer hold the fascination that they once did. Paul in his epistle to the Colossians said “for you have died and your lives are hidden with Christ in God. And in the 6th of Romans he said that he who is dead is free from sin. So you can see the wonderful positive side of death. But what happens when the believer ceases to be on fire for Jesus? It is almost as if another death has taken place. This is the case with many Christians. It is so easy to fall into the sin of complacency and man is a most lazy creature. He will not move any more than he absolutely has to. He will not expend one more ounce of energy than is absolutely necessary to get the job done.
Now translate this into the Christian life. “I’ve read my bible enough! I know what it says. I don’t need to pray anymore, besides the bible says that God knows what’s on my mind before I even say the words. It also says that the Holy Spirit is praying for me. So I’m covered. I’m free in Christ to do what I want. Worship attendance is too much for me and besides, I can worship wherever I am so who needs church!”As you consider this line of reasoning look to yourselves and see if you have fallen for this trap. Satan would love nothing more than for you to become an easy-chair Christian. While Jesus told us to be light bearers, the devil is constantly at us to hide that light under the cover of the easy chair. You can hear the whisper, “Relax: Jesus fought the good fight so you don’t have to expend any energy. Sure the Bible says “be holy for I am Holy, but you already have the holiness of God imputed to you so why exert yourself!
All your efforts at being holy, at purifying your life, at putting off every weight and the sin that so easily besets, all these things are works and you know that by the works of the law no flesh will be justified.” And so it goes. You can see the subtleness of the devil here. He uses scripture to accomplish his own ends and that end is to see you useless for the kingdom of God. He wants you dead! He wants your life to be meaningless! He wants you to cease striving against sin and just go with the flow of the world. Now what happens to you when you take your eyes off Jesus, when you stop reading His word, when you stop worshiping at the throne of grace? You become like one who is dead. You return to the old habits, the old pattern of life that you knew before. Now consider the church of Sardis. Here we have a dead church, a church which for the most part is asleep in the light. This church is just the way Satan likes it, dead!
But Jesus will not stand for this! He is about to intervene. We read His personal letter to this church. He addresses his letter, (1) “To the angel of the church in Sardis…Now what a slap in the face this must have been. What a face-full of cold water… Here is the pastor of the church and he probably thought that things were moving along swimmingly. Now he has a letter from Jesus! Uh Oh! As He reads he realizes there is a problem. Complacency has led to the sleep of death. They had become full of themselves to the point that they just relaxed. But this was a dangerous place to be. Remember Samson? He is a perfect illustration of complacency.
He was a Nazarite from the womb and the command to his parents was: no drinking, no dead bodies, and no haircuts. Well it wasn’t long before Samson began to enjoy a little drinkeepoo now and then. One day a lion attacked him and he tore it in two! The next time he saw it there was a bee hive in it and he went over and got himself some honey from the dead animal. Later he hooked up with a wonderful woman named Delilah. She was a Philistine of good standing in the community and the Philistines saw their chance to get this enemy who had so decimated their armies and wrecked their cities, (they had to get some new gates for Gaza because of him). He had already wandered far from God and was ripe for the wiles of this evil woman. See how blind he was. He should have seen red flags at her first question (Jud 16:6) “So Delilah said to Samson, “Please tell me where your great strength is and how you may be bound to afflict you.”
Now any man in his right mind, who was thinking clearly would have decided to break off the relationship right then and there but again the truth of scripture shouts to us as our Lord says, With her many persuasions she entices him; With her flattering lips she seduces him. 22 Suddenly he follows her As an ox goes to the slaughter, Or as one in fetters to the discipline of a fool, 23 Until an arrow pierces through his liver; As a bird hastens to the snare, So he does not know that it will cost him his life. (Pr. 7:21) Having forsaken God, and forgotten that his strength came from the hand of the Almighty, Samson now became self reliant.
Each time he told Delilah a lie, she put his words into action and he was too blind to see it. When at last he told her the truth she had his hair cut and began afflicting him herself. In (Judges 16:20-21) “She said, “The Philistines are upon you, Samson!” And he awoke from his sleep and said, “I will go out as at other times and shake myself free.” But he did not know that the LORD had departed from him. 21 Then the Philistines seized him and gouged out his eyes; and they brought him down to Gaza and bound him with bronze chains, and he was a grinder in the prison.
Now here was this pastor, leading the flock that God had entrusted to him. He knew the call of God concerning pastors that they should shepherd the flock of God: that they should teach sound doctrine: that they should feed the sheep. And yet something had happened. There was a problem so severe that Jesus Himself had sent a letter “To the angel of the church in Sardis… He tells John to write: “He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars, It is the Spirit of God who breaths life into the dead soul of sinful man and causes that dead sinner to become a living child of God. This same Spirit is the founder of all true Christian assemblies and He holds those assemblies, churches, stars, in His hand. He called this man into the ministry as He does all of His ministers and equipped him for the task at hand.
And this pastor should have known that you must always be plugged into the power source if you are going to do any good for the glory of God. To forsake the Lord and to try to lead an assembly of believers in your own strength is a futile endeavor. The same is true for the believer. If a child of God neglects the means of grace: prayer, bible study, fellowship with other saints, and tries to go it alone he is destined for a huge fall. Remember Samson! Remember David! Remember Peter! All forsook the Lord for a time and all suffered for their sin. Samson had his eyes put out. David committed adultery and murder and he lost a baby and two grown sons! And the sword never left his house. Peter thought he was super Christian! “I’ll never deny you Jesus”! A servant girl had him cursing and swearing and denying that he ever knew someone named Jesus! All these suffered for their sin of pride and self sufficiency. Sardis had forsaken the Lord. Oh sure they had a church there. You could walk by and see the sign, “First Church of Sardis”. But they were as lifeless as a corpse. Picture Bela Lugosi at the pulpit and Boris Karloff at the organ. Now that’s dead. Jesus says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but your name is in contrast to reality. The truth of the matter is that you are dead. Now the Greek word used here is Nekros. There are several meanings that are associated with this word. The first definition of course is actual death. Then we have the idea of being destitute of a life that recognizes and is devoted to God. The result is that such a person is given up to a life of sin. Finally we have the illustration of one who is inactive respecting doing what is right. Such a person is destitute of force or power, they are inactive, inoperative. A.T Robertson says that the picture here is not a complete death but of one who is rapidly dying which I think is born out in Jesus words in verse 2 when He says “Wake up, and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die.
This may have come as quite a shock to the church at Sardis. But whenever you tell someone that their Christian life is lacking or that there is a problem in their life that needs to be dealt with you are stepping on their toes. And they shout, “You have no right to judge me! I’m just as good as you are, probably better! I believe in Jesus. I’m a Christian!” So now the question is: what is the Christian life anyway? Jesus stated exactly what it is in the Gospel of Mark, chapter 8. Beginning at verse (34) we read And He summoned the crowd with His disciples, and said to them, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. (35) “For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it. The Christian life is following Jesus. It is living a life devoted to Jesus Christ. It is loving the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind and strength.
This life is demonstrable. James speaks of demonstrating your faith by your deeds, your works. You can see the heart of a man in how he goes about his life and work. A man who is always grumbling, whose life is characterized by whining and complaining really has no joy in his life at all! When Jesus takes up residence in the life of a man there is a transformation. He is changed from the inside out. That which he once hated he now loves. And the sins that he once pursued are now a source of misery and disgust. He now pursues God, follows after God who has become his Father. And his heart longs to be near his Lord! He craves the time that he spends with Jesus. This is the Christian life.
But it is interesting how many start the race off well and then something happens. Slowly, sometimes imperceptively, the new believer relaxes his exercises of devotion. Paul warned Timothy to stay stirred up. In (2Ti 1:6) he says, “For this reason I remind you to kindle afresh the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. (Inflame one’s mind, strength, zeal.) Paul directs Timothy to stir up new life into that holy fire which God had kindled in him. The illustration here is of the reviving of a fire that has been choked with ashes and is slowly dying out.
He is to do this by daily prayer, and meditating on the things of God and by using his God given gifts, improving those spiritual abilities which God had given him like the faithful servants did with the talents that their master had given them. If we don’t stay stirred up one day we will awake to find our hearts no longer burning with devotion to Jesus. Oh sure we may still read our Bibles but it will be more occasionally, at our convenience. We may pray but it will only be when we think of it, usually when we are in trouble. Other things will captivate our attention. Old things, forgotten things will creep back into our lives. A little compromise here and there! And we will find ourselves in the sorrowful land of the backslidden. Our service to Jesus, if there is any at all, will only be half hearted. And we will begin to make excuses. “Well that’s just the way I am, or I’m still growing in that area.” But we have begun to compromise and it is compromise on the little issues that lead to greater ones. The scriptures speak of the ‘little foxes that spoil the vines.’ Worse still you have become cold to the things of the Spirit of God. When confronted you say, “I still have faith, I still believe in God” but your life demonstrates a complete lack of faith. It demonstrated lack of faith in God and an ever growing faith what you can do, faith in the world. And (Jas 2:17) says, “Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.”
Sardis is synonymous with the sleep of death. The whole church seems to have taken a field trip to the enchanted ground. But there was another group in this church as there is in any church. It is a kind of subculture that exists in the church of Jesus Christ. These people are lost sinners who are in the church either as infiltrators like the ones Jude speaks of or they are the fruit of faulty evangelism. We are familiar with this type of “soul winning” where you get someone to a. admit they are a sinner, b. believe in Jesus, and c. be baptized into the local church. They go through all of these ‘steps’ and are proclaimed new believers. But there has been no transformation wrought in their lives. They are still the same as they were before they were dunked. Only now they have a false hope of heaven. They were told they didn’t need to understand what they were doing, they just needed to perform these steps and then God would save them. Then they could go on with their lives as usual.
And so they do exactly what they were taught. They return to their former sinful lives only now they call themselves “Christians”. But their lives tell a different story. They are charlatans merely “Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: they have a name that they are alive but they are dead. And because they are unregenerate they are still in bondage to sin only now they have sanctified their evil desires. They are the ones to say, “You can serve God and the devil, you can have fellowship with Christ and belial, you can mix light and darkness.
Such people remind me of the words of (Pr 1:10-17) “My son, if sinners entice you, Do not consent. 11 If they say, “Come with us, Let us lie in wait for blood, Let us ambush the innocent without cause; 12 Let us swallow them alive like Sheol, Even whole, as those who go down to the pit; 13 We will find all kinds of precious wealth, We will fill our houses with spoil; 14 Throw in your lot with us, We shall all have one purse,” 15 My son, do not walk in the way with them. Keep your feet from their path, 16 for their feet run to evil and they hasten to shed blood. 17 Indeed, it is useless to spread the baited net in the sight of any bird; 18 But they lie in wait for their own blood; they ambush their own lives.”There is great danger to those who entertain the thought of accepting such a doctrine of devils because this doctrine appeals to our flesh, to our old remaining sin nature. If we are honest, our flesh would love to take off and run with such a doctrine. We would love to have our cake and eat it too! And so Paul warns us not to fellowship with these people. They are lying in wait for their own blood and will not hesitate to take yours too! So he says, “from such turn away.” (2Ti 3:5) To this church which had been dying, which had been sleeping the sleep of death, which had become so complacent that all efforts to fight the good fight, to follow Jesus had become negligible, Jesus says, (2) ‘Wake up, get out of your bed of complacency and strengthen the things that remain, which were about to die; for I have not found your deeds completed in the sight of My God. What they had been doing really amounted to “traditions learned by rote”. They were “going through the motions” but there was no zeal for God. They had not been faithful! Jesus says, WAKE UP! And we must take heed to ourselves to strengthen those things that remain in us, to stir up the gift that God has given to us. Paul says, (Romans 13:11) Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.
He gives us this wise council in (Eph 5:14-17) “For this reason it says, “Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” 15 Therefore be careful how you walk, not as unwise men but as wise, 16 making the most of your time, because the days are evil. 17 So then do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.” And from the book of Hebrews we have this warning against complacency when the writer says, (Heb 2:1) “For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it.” Jesus says to this church and to us, (3) ‘So remember recall to mind the truth of the gospel, the teaching of the word of God. Remember what you have received and heard; and keep it, (hold fast to the truth), and repent. Repentance does not consist in merely acknowledging the sin committed but it involves a turning. You were going one way and now that you found out it was the wrong way you must make a violent U turn. As the old sailors would say, “Heel hard over and come about.”
John the Baptist told the very religious Pharisees “bring forth fruit in keeping with your profession of faith. You claim to be a Christian: then live that profession out in your daily life. Prove; demonstrate your faith by your works. Christianity is not a title. It is a life transformed by God, meant to be lived for God. (Eph 2:10) “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” Hear this warning! Therefore if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come to you. He had told the Ephesian Church that if they would not repent He would remove their lamp-stand, their church out of its place. Remember that there is no church in Ephesus today. It is a ruin.
It is interesting how churches seem to take on the personalities of the cities they were in. Sardis was a city kind of on a giant post. It was founded on the top of a kind of mesa and there was only one way to get into the city. Sardis was over confident in its invincibility. Why no one could get in here! Yet twice Sardis was captured. And still this complacent attitude prevailed. It seems that this was the attitude of the church here. ‘We’ve got our fire insurance. Everything’s fine here.” And yet Jesus says otherwise. But not everyone was in this state. Jesus says, (4) ‘But you have a few people (even) in Sardis who have not soiled their garments; Even in a dead church there was a faithful remnant who remained devoted to Jesus. Notice what He says of them: and they will walk with Me in white, for they are worthy. Did the members look around to see who these were? Did they know these people? Did they consider them to be “Oh those goody two shoes, those holier than thou’s?” Well now they know what Jesus thought of them. They were “His faithful ones”! Now listen to what Jesus says. Its time to wake up. It’s time to put forth effort. Its time to sweat and strain and run for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. It’s time to live out your professed faith. And He gives this promise! (5) ‘He who overcomes (he who stands firm in the faith, who takes up his cross and follows Jesus, who proves by his deeds that he truly is a child of God, this one will thus be clothed in white garments; he will enter into his rest and there will be no more sin. He will be pure before his Heavenly Father.
Jesus Christ’s faithful ones are kept by His own Omnipotent power. There is no danger of their being rejected in the end. The game-players will hear “Depart from Me, I never knew you” but His children, will enter into His rest and He says, I will not erase his name from the book of life, The one who comes to Me I will never cast out. On the contrary He says, and I will confess his name before My Father and before His angels. They have confessed Him before men and He will confess them before His heavenly Father.
So where are you? Are you asleep in the light? Have you become complacent? Wake up! Wake up and strengthen those things that remain if there is anything to strengthen. Weigh yourselves in the balances of the word of God and if you are found wanting run to Him for mercy.
Are you one of His faithful ones? Praise God. But don’t gloat over your faithfulness. And don’t become complacent. Don’t fall asleep at the wheel! Run the race set before you. Fix your eyes on Jesus. That means you look away from all other things to Jesus alone. He must be the apple of your eye. He must be the true love of your life. Devote yourself to Him. Cling to Him, follow Him and when the time comes for you to lie down in death you will fall asleep in Jesus and wake up with Him in Paradise. (6) ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’